We made love in Sissel’s copious, effortless periods, got good and sticky and brown with the blood and I thought we were the creatures now in the slime . . .
— Ian McEwan, First Love, Last Rites (1975)
I lived in the dead centre of Europe — pretty much — for a short while, a long while ago. I was away from home and missing English. A small sanctuary developed within the pages of a notebook I bought with old-time Deutschmarks — when I really should have been spending the money on food or paying the rent. In the notebook I collected written gems. They comforted me.
Ian McEwan’s small comfort, above, has always hit me from several angles all at once: it has a rhythm, to my ears; it has a somewhat disquieting feel; it strikes me as what a writer who just wants to write would write; it has its own awkward beauty.
Some writers write for shock value. Maybe McEwan was angling this way as well. Time passes. Other words are written. It must be a fine line though, this balancing act between shock and awe: too ‘full on’ and the reader isn’t impressed, sees through the ruse; if ‘hitting from several angles’ then the reader is left with a flavour that still lingers, even after twenty years.
It’s been twenty years or so since I first read McEwan. He peaked early, but better to peak than to never hope to peak at all, perhaps. As a writer now, I take from McEwan — and from Sissel — not so much shock value, but awe: that small possibility that some line or paragraph of weight, or depth, or significance, or just of lingering potential, could be written. The potential of such lines just keeps hanging there in the air, like waiting for the thunder . . .
What gems, what awe in lines of writing, leave you waiting, waiting on?